Cracking the Mystery of Green Jobs

Cracking the Mystery of Green Jobs

Green jobs are a singular shining point of hope in an otherwise unsettling time. Depending on who you ask, green jobs are going to pull the U.S. out of the recession. Green jobs will help keep jobs at home. Green jobs will help the underprivileged. Green jobs will help rebuild our nation and lead the world to a better place. Green jobs will transform our energy system. And they will fill our desire to take on work that makes a difference.

As a result, many people, both active job seekers and the merely curious, are looking for green jobs.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has recently appointed Van Jones -- author of The Green Collar Economy -- to be a special advisor for green jobs, enterprise and innovation. There is money in the stimulus plan and the national budget for green jobs. This new green economy will affect every part of our lives and will provide millions upon millions of jobs soon.

But when is soon? And where are those green jobs? How do we find them? What do I need to do or know to get one? And what is a green job anyway?

What Is a Green Job?

There is no one definition of a green job. The term "green jobs" has become a catch-all for any job that has to do with sustainability, climate change, green building, energy, the environment, recycling, organic farming or transportation. The fact is that "green jobs" means different things to different people.

My regular series of blog posts will cover as much of the green jobs universe as I can -- to share what's new, to share conversations with those who are in or know about green jobs, and to share stories of people who are finding their dream green jobs even in this turbulent economy.

I've been researching green jobs over the past year as part of my role as Green Jobs point person for the Job Forum here in San Francisco. The Job Forum is a volunteer-run program where job seekers come for help in their job search. In that role I've interviewed a wide variety of people involved with green initiatives from government employees, academic program directors, workforce consultants, and those developing green job career search services.

One telling fact: According to Jim Cassio, a workforce development consultant, the government labor codes do not yet include any jobs with the word "solar" in them. In addition to making it exceedingly difficult to track the number of jobs in the U.S. involving the solar industry, that also means that every article you read about "green jobs" is likely to be using different assumptions.

Green jobs can be obvious, like engineers and installers in solar companies or the chief sustainability officer at Sun Microsystems or Georgia Pacific. They can be organic farmers or anyone who works at Seventh Generation.

But a green job can also be the truck driver who carries green products one day and traditional products the next, or the executive assistant in a green company. And it can be someone who is greening his or her current job in a traditional company. These are all green jobs. One helpful way to think about green jobs is to break them down as follows:

• All jobs in new green industries that were not here 10 or even 5 years ago;
• All jobs in businesses or organizations that are already green;
• Specific jobs in businesses that are moving toward green;
• Green jobs in businesses that don't yet have a clue.

The key is to do your research, find out what is considered green in your area.

Where Are All the Green Jobs?

Green jobs are everywhere -- but sometimes they are not easy to see. There has always been a "hidden job market" -- the one where the jobs aren't posted on job boards, the one where the company may not even know exactly what they want… yet, the one where knowing someone gets you in the door. In many places, the hidden job market is the one you need to be looking in for green jobs.

One good starting resource (in addition to's own jobs board), is to look at Cassio's free Green Careers Resource Guide for ideas. This guide has information on employment statistics, green jobs, green careers, and job boards.

How Do I Find my Green Job?

You have the opportunity to decide for yourself what a green job is for you and to go after it. People are finding green jobs in this economy. Van Jones had a green job as the founding president of Green for All and he is being replaced by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins because of his new job at the White House. Where there was one green job just a few days ago, there are now two.

To find your own green job, you need to do your research, figure out what you really want to do, talk to people who are doing what you want to do, or are doing something similar. Find the physical communities or the online communities you feel comfortable in and let people know you want to move in this direction. Your job may be with your own company or it may be a job that isn't even posted yet by a young startup.

Real Life Examples

In future articles I will provide more examples of the wide range of organizations and corporations and small businesses that have green jobs. From the building industry with its established LEED standards to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action organization that also does business consulting, to GE Transportation with its state of the art locomotive manufacturing division, to companies like Better Place and Coulomb Technologies that are developing charging station networks for electric vehicles.

This world of green jobs is changing minute by minute so we want this to be a dialogue -- post a comment at the bottom of the page to tell us about good resources, green job-hunting success stories, and tell us when we're off base.

Paula Hendricks has written two books on sustainable building, and has been involved with the Job Forum in San Francisco for more than eight years.

Solar panel installer photo CC-licensed by Flickr user OregonDOT.